TOKYO — Prime Minister Fumio Kishida sent a ritual offering Thursday to Yasukuni, a Shinto shrine in Tokyo long at the heart of diplomatic friction with China and South Korea that regard it as a symbol of Japan’s past militarism.
Kishida sent the “masakaki” offering on the occasion of the shrine’s spring festival that commenced the same day. But he is expected to refrain from paying a visit, a source familiar with the matter said.
Sanae Takaichi, policy chief of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, visited the shrine. The hard-line conservative often visited the shrine when she was a Cabinet minister.
Kishida, considered a party liberal, sent a similar offering for the shrine’s autumn festival, shortly after becoming prime minister last October.
Yasukuni honors convicted war criminals along with millions of war dead. Past visits to the shrine by Japanese prime ministers, including Shinzo Abe, and lawmakers have sparked sharp criticism from China and South Korea, where memories of Japan’s militarism before and during World War II run deep.
Kishida has expressed hope to improve ties with South Korea under incoming President Yoon Suk Yeol, who has called for a “future-oriented” approach.
Relations between Tokyo and Seoul have soured over issues stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula. Yoon is sending a delegation to Japan from Sunday for talks with lawmakers, diplomats and business leaders ahead of his inauguration in May.
Japan and China, meanwhile, are marking the 50th anniversary this year of the normalization of bilateral ties. Sino-Japanese relations have been frayed over wartime history and the sovereignty of the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Beijing claims the uninhabited islets, which it calls Diaoyu.
In 1978, Yasukuni added wartime Prime Minister Gen. Hideki Tojo and 13 other Class-A war criminals to those elevated to the status of gods at the shrine, stirring controversy in Japan and abroad.